This is my recollection of last Saturday morning (December 18th), when Fire Challenged California Yannkee.
It’s one a.m. I awake with a start. I was dreaming of a chirping smoke detector; you know, the low battery signal. Something is not right. I wake my wife, and ask; "Do you smell something burning?" She says, "Yes."
I jump out of bed and hurry down the hall. I'm thinking that maybe my daughter has a candle burning in her room. I open her door, nothing. I continue down the hall checking every room. I yell for my wife, "Get up! Help me find this."
I go downstairs, into the kitchen. There is a little bit of smoke. I go to the furnace room; my wife is beside me. Open the door, lots of smoke. Something is wrong with the furnace. I hit the emergency shut off switch. Close the door thinking the immediate problem is solved, although there was a peculiar crackling sound.
Back in the kitchen, there's more smoke. I decide to open windows before the smoke detectors go off. The smoke detector in the kitchen screams. I pull it off the ceiling and take the battery out. My wife points out the smoke coming from the pantry. I open the door. We see flames and close the door. I think I can put this out with the fire extinguisher. Then I smarten up. I hand my wife the phone and say, "Call 9-11 and get out!" It hasn't been more than a couple of minutes since I was dreaming about the chirping smoke detector.
I rush back upstairs. I tell my daughter to get out of bed. She rolls over. More loudly I say, "Get out of bed there's a fire in the house!" She jumps out of bed. I throw on some clothes. We're all outside, even the dog. I notice that my wife and daughter are only in their pjs. I get stupid, go back in the house, and grab a bunch of coats and shoes. I wasn't picky I just grabbed stuff.
Two police cars with lights and sirens pass by the driveway. My daughter, still barefoot, starts running up the driveway. I overtake her, tell her to stay put, and run into the street to direct the firefighters into the driveway. I don't think it’s even been two minutes since we called.
Now there are five fire vehicles and two police cars. The police put my wife and daughter in a squad car for warmth. The police officer hands me a cell phone and asks if I want to call some family. I say no they are all too far away and call a friend and neighbor who lives three houses away. The phone is answered on the first ring. He was about to come out and see what all the commotion was about. You could sense the shock when I said we have a fire in our house.
You can now see flames in the kitchen. Heavy smoke is venting from all over the house, and the fire fighters are going about their business. I realize I'm still holding the dog. I put him in the back of my SUV. Our friend takes my wife and daughter to their house.
For some reason my insurance policy is in the car. So I take out the policy and call the claim office while the firefighters are still working. Everybody I talk to--the police, the firefighters, the insurance company--wants my date of birth. I don't understand why.
I'm still in the front yard watching the fourteen firefighters work the fire. There's still lots of smoke, but I no longer see flames. Our friend is back and he offers to take the dog to his house. I gladly accept. I ask the officer in command if I can go into the house to get the dog's leash. He looks at me like I'm nuts. I tell him, "It's just inside the kitchen, I know right where it is." He says okay and escorts me in. What a mess! I grab the leash, put it on the dog, and give the dog to my friend.
There is still smoke billowing out of the roof vents. It's about two and a half-hours before the firefighters are convinced the fire is out.
The firefighters take me inside, and show me where they think the fire started. They tell me the boiler's firebox failed. The fire burned through the furnace room wall, into the pantry, out into the kitchen and also goes up around the furnace chimney into the second story. They ask me about the open windows. I tell them I was trying to clear the smoke out of the house before I realized there was actually a fire. The firefighters tell me it's a bad idea to open windows when there's a fire and I repeat I didn't think there was a fire. Then they tell me that in this case the open windows drafted the fire towards the windows and kept the fire from reaching the other rooms of the first story.
The soot is everywhere. Everything you touch leaves you black. The firefighters take me upstairs, and show me where the fire came up around the chimney. I can't believe all the holes they punched in the ceiling and walls looking for the fire. They post a notice to vacate on the door and leave.
I go back inside to find some clothes, and I can't find anything that doesn't smell badly of smoke. I throw a few things in a bag, and walk up to my friend’s house. I take a shower, go to bed, and cannot fall asleep. I keep thinking how fortunate we all are to have gotten out safely.
I get up around 6:30, make a list of things to do, and pace around the house. I wake my insurance agent up at 7:30, and talk about whom to get to do the salvage. I call my builder at 8:00. He, a fire inspector and a building inspector meet me at the house. I am simply stunned by the damage. It didn't look so bad under a flashlight at 4:30 a.m. The kitchen is a complete loss. Rubble, about two feet thick is piled along one side of the kitchen. Some of the living room paneling is scorched. The pantry, furnace room are only the frame and the burned out hulk of the furnace.
Upstairs there is also a huge mess. There are big holes in the ceiling every few feet where the firefighters were looking for the fire. Like downstairs, some walls are down to the frame. Again soot is everywhere. There is absolutely nothing in the house that is useable. The firefighters did a great job stopping the fire, but boy does fighting a fire make a mess.